For a policy maker who’s mapping the road towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), high-quality statistics are an essential tool to picture the terrain of their economy and its diverse inhabitants. And like the digital maps we have become used to — they need these essential statistics to be increasingly accurate, accessible, granular, and up-to-date.
In recent years, the promise of harnessing data to monitor and achieve the SDGs has also galvanized the global development community. The gaps and variations in statistical capacity across countries are in focus, and the call to fund the modernization of National Statistical Systems has become clear.⁴
“While financing is certainly not the only driver, the current levels of both domestic and international support for data and statistics are simply too modest to respond to the ever-increasing demand driven by global initiatives such as the SDGs.” — 2019 Statistical Capacity Development Outlook, PARIS2¹⁵
Who’s been addressing the funding gaps?
At the turn of the century, when the global community didn’t yet pay much attention to funding data and statistics, the World Bank set the Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB) in motion with donors including Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).
Since 1999, TFSCB has provided focused funding for the planning, production, dissemination, and use of timely statistics — such as National Strategies for the Development of Statistics (NSDS), household surveys, censuses, open data, and others — for low- and middle-income countries to promote a culture of evidence-based policy making.
In line with the SDG-focused data paradigm, TFSCB expanded its focus in 2016 to explore data collection methods that use disruptive technologies, such as machine learning, remote sensing, crowdsourcing, and drones. This also involves supporting pilot projects that push the frontiers of analyzing development data — with a goal of mainstreaming successful interventions.
From surveying far-flung nomadic people in Mongolia, promoting open data in Vietnam, developing the economic census for Bhutan, preparing the NSDS for Egypt, initiating national accounts preparation in Djibouti, developing a conflict monitoring system in Nigeria, to many more projects — TFSCB works with national statistical offices (NSOs) and ministries across the globe, which often operate in challenging conditions.
“We need to invest in countries in every step of the way, from improving their methods, to collecting better data, anonymizing and curating the information, and increasing their capacity to use and analyze data to bring about real development impact.” — Haishan Fu, Director, Development Economics Data Group, World Bank⁶
What makes TFSCB’s funding effective?
As the investor’s mindset takes hold around the funding for development data, referring to data as the ‘new oil’ is already cliché. From the TFSCB perspective, a better analogy to think about the potential of data can be to harnessing renewable energy amid a constantly evolving ecosystem.
With its unique focus on responding to urgent country demands while keeping the long-term perspective — TFSCB has developed its capacity to quickly adapt to changing country priorities and generate lasting impact with relatively small grants, typically less than US$500 thousand.
TFSCB financing across programs (for projects active in June 2019)
Here are some of the reasons why TFSCB funding has been effective across two decades for strengthening the foundations of national statistical systems, and pushing the frontiers of development data with innovative initiatives:
Being agile to meet country demands
From the outset, TFSCB had been designed as a funding instrument with high-flexibility and a broad scope of working across countries and themes. While continuing to support its core priorities of statistical capacity building and NSDS, TFSCB has frequently introduced fresh programs in response to the changing statistical environment and emerging country demands. These programs include: Open Data (2012); Data Production (2015); Innovations in Development Data (2016); and Inclusive Data (2019).
Catalyzing country ownership and sustainable funding
As its grant sizes are relatively small, TFSCB strives to fund projects that can catalyze ongoing support for statistical capacity building. This involves providing quick-disbursing grants for projects that address critical data needs and generate statistics that countries and donors find beneficial to allocate subsequent funds towards. TFSCB’s grants also work well for countries to pilot international best practices, which may not otherwise be feasible through country-owned projects.
Fostering collaborations for every context
Since TFSCB’s work includes projects that are country-specific, regional, and global, the trust fund has developed close collaborations at every level. For instance, in Lebanon, TFSCB helped hospitals collaborate with the Ministry of Public Health to develop the National Vital Data Observatory. As an example of collaboration at the regional level, TFSCB helped train staff across five small-island countries in the Caribbean to harmonize energy statistics. At the global level, TFSCB helps scale good practices across countries. The BOOST methodology, a cost-effective approach to collect public finance data — which was piloted in Uganda — was applied to National Education Accounts in Kosovo, Burkina Faso, and Togo with TFSCB support.
“The TFSCB is unique in that its activities encompass grant support to strategy development, statistical capacity building, data production, and innovations in statistics. This cross-sectional approach fosters sustainable development of statistical systems in recipient countries.” — TFSCB Advisory Panel, 2017 ⁷
What’s next for financing SDG data needs?
While policy makers increasingly demand high-quality, fine-grained data to navigate towards the SDGs, countries are gearing up for an exciting, yet challenging time. They not only need to ramp up their technical ability to provide data for SDGs, they also have to leapfrog their capacity to be in step with the new data providers and users joining the data revolution.
In addition, the context in which economies operate are also changing — to tackle data gaps around urgent challenges like climate change, migration, and epidemics, governments need to push the frontiers of data methods and technologies in collaboration with the data community beyond the NSOs.
This requires resources, and the estimated gaps in official development assistance to meet the SDG data needs currently range between US$100 million to US$700 million per year.⁸ Meanwhile, TFSCB — a seasoned provider of funding for development data — is nearing its closing in 2020.
As the funding support for SDG data is currently fragmented⁴, the global community needs a coordinated, global financing facility — which can harmonize resources to address country needs for SDG data and to meet the priorities of the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data (CTGAP).
While the conversation crystallizes and a new facility for SDG data is devised, the demand for the services of a seasoned-yet-flexible fund like TFSCB — which has decades of on-the-ground experience; deep connections in the NSO and statistics community; and a strong record of meeting country needs — will remain, if not increase further, to effectively deploy the funding for SDG data.
“TFSCB has served as a vehicle for statistical development, triggering improvement in statistics systems and policy decisions in the Southern African region. Its resources have been used to develop households’ surveys in Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, and Eswatini. Countries in the region have also significantly improved quality and frequency of data collection and produced a range of harmonized social indicators.” — Victor Sulla, Senior Economist, World Bank
In the coming months we will compile and share lessons learned from TFSCB’s work to inform the conversation around the new financial facility; and to nudge the global development community to continue TFSCB’s work on essential statistics with governments and maintain financial support to help scale proven ideas with innovative teams.
So, keep an eye on this space, and take a look at our previous blog about the integrated household survey in Sierra Leone conducted while the country was striving to recover from the Ebola outbreak.
- Serajuddin, Umar; Uematsu, Hiroki; Wieser, Christina; Yoshida, Nobuo; Dabalen, Andrew L.. 2015. Data deprivation : another deprivation to end (English). Policy Research working paper; no. WPS 7252. Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group
- United Nations Global SDG Indicators Database, as of August 6, 2019
- OECD (2017), Development Co-operation Report 2017: Data for Development, OECD Publishing, Paris
- Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data, United Nations Statistics Division
- Statistical Capacity Development Outlook 2019, PARIS21
- Voices: Perspectives on Development; “Data for development impact: Why we need to invest in data, people and ideas”, by Haishan Fu, World Bank
- Report of the Fourteenth Meeting of the TFSCB Advisory Panel, World Bank
- PARIS21 (2019), “Financing challenges for developing statistical systems: A review of financing options”, PARIS21 Discussion Paper, №14, Paris